Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Intoxicating Presence

by Staff


Tags: Bible camp, depression, alcohol, Christian belief,

If you’ve seen the documentary Jesus Camp, you may be alarmed about what goes on at conservative Christian summer camps. At least at some of them—my own memories consist largely of swimming, throwing a frisbee, and awkwardly chatting up girls. Writing in the Sun (article not available online), Matthew M. Quick touches on something fundamental to the Bible-camp experience: the tremendous spiritual high that Christian summer camps cultivate, and the inevitable difficulty in sustaining that feeling after you go home.

The article begins in the present, with the author as an adult. Quick answers a phone call from his mother, a devout Christian who is deeply depressed. Quick is no longer devout, but he declines to tell her that in so many words. Instead, he tries to comfort his mother in her depression—while simultaneously putting away a fair amount of whiskey.

Recalling the campfires and tearful prayers of his youth, Quick emphasizes his overwhelming sense “that Christ had come to me, as if I could have reached out and touched his robe and been made whole.” In the present, what limited peace his mother can find is immersed in a similar sense of the physical presence of Jesus. Quick now finds such belief to be out of reach—as distant as the mountaintop spiritual epiphanies he felt as a child. What he does have is the whiskey, which he drinks, not to escape so much as to imagine the divine presence he no longer feels:

When I swallow, the burn climbs my throat, and I try to imagine this burning sensation all over my body. Maybe this is what it feels like to touch the robe of Christ. Wasn’t it wine that Christ transformed into his blood? … I think if he were here right now, I would drink his wine until I could no longer stand. I would take him to my mother, so that he could lift her depression for good.

—Steve Thorngate